01/15/12 — Social worker receives national award for efforts

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Social worker receives national award for efforts

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 15, 2012 1:50 AM

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Donna Best, a social worker in Wayne County Public Schools for 21 years, was recognized by the school board at its January meeting for receiving the national award for "Outstanding Individual Working in a Program" by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

When school officials looked at the criteria for a national award for "Outstanding Individual Working in a Program" to support homeless students and families, one name readily came to mind.

Donna Best has been a social worker with Wayne County Public Schools for the past 21 years. She currently serves Greenwood Middle School.

"(The award) just sort of screamed her name," said Allison Pridgen, Wayne County Public Schools' director of student support services. "All social workers have done a terrific job. She has the most longevity. She was dealing with homeless children and families long before the law was in action. She has served as a tremendous support for our social workers."

Ms. Best has 31 years in the profession, the first 10 spent in human services providing foster care, family intake services and child protective services.

She recently received the prestigious award, from the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, during the annual conference held in Pittsburgh. She was recognized locally by the school board at Monday night's meeting.

"Ms. Best helps homeless students reach their potential by regularly consulting with administration and teachers on student progress, keeping parents informed of their rights, as well as resources and available services, locating appropriate resources to replace lost or destroyed school materials, setting up transportation, working with child nutrition or making home visits," said Rick Pridgen, school board member.

He lauded the efforts of the social worker, which typically go beyond the regular school day.

"One example of her dedication to supporting homeless students occurred last year when a fire caused a student and (his) family to lose all of their possessions and to become homeless," he said. "Ms. Best immediately contacted the school and involved outside agencies to provide support.

"She then collaborated with the local agencies along with volunteers to go to the home site to salvage items from the charred remains, secure funding for a hotel stay, provide clothing, replace a lost band instrument, secure money for car repairs, provide gift cards to cover incidentals, and obtain a rental home for the family with the deposit and first two months rent prepaid."

Ms. Best was appreciative of the recognition, but pointed out that credit should be shared with her counterparts across the county.

"I received this award but that award is representative of what all the social workers in Wayne County do every day and hat I feel in my heart that social workers across this nation are trying to do to work with these families," she said. "And that's to meet their needs -- keep our children in school and ensure that their education is the same as everybody's."

At the national conference, Ms. Best and other school officials were also presenters during a breakout session, discussing what Wayne County schools do under the McKinney-Vento Act, the first and only major federal legislative response to support displaced or homeless students. WCPS currently has an estimated 287 students in that category.